The importance of a uniform current density profile in the exhaust beam of an electrostatic ion thruster is discussed in terms of thrust level and accelerator system lifetime. A residence time approach is used to explain the nonuniform beam current density profile of the divergent magnetic field thruster. Mathematical expressions are derived which relate the thruster discharge power loss, propellant utilization, and double to single ion density ratio to the geometry and plasma properties of the discharge chamber. These relationships are applied to a cylindrical discharge chamber model of the thruster. Experimental results are presented for a wide range of the discharge chamber length. The thruster designed for this investigation was operated with a cusped magnetic field as well as a divergent field geometry, and the cusped field geometry is shown to be superior from the standpoint of beam profile uniformity, performance, and double ion population.